Bob Arnold, a palliative care physician I’d met from the University of Pittsburgh, had explained to me that the mistake clinicians make in these situations is that they see their task as just supplying cognitive information—hard, cold facts and descriptions. They want to be Dr. Informative. But it’s the meaning behind the information that people are looking for more than the facts. The best way to convey meaning is to tell people what the information means to you yourself, he said. And he gave me three words to use to do that. “I am worried,” I told Douglass. The tumor was still there, I explained, and I was worried the blockage was likely to come back. They were such simple words, but it wasn’t hard to sense how much they communicated. I had given her the facts. But by including the fact that I was worried, I’d not only told her about the seriousness of the situation, I’d told her that I was on her side—I was pulling for her. The words also told her that, although I feared something serious, there remained uncertainties—possibilities for hope within the parameters nature had imposed.
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